Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

All you new wavers will probably think I've abandoned ship after scanning this month's selections, but that's your problem. I've heard worse bands than Haircut One Hundred, but then I've also heard worse bands than Loverboy, and from my command post south of 14th Street I must say I find "Living for the Weekend" both more exotic and more truthful than "Fantastic Day." Fast eclecticism rools okay?


LAURIE ANDERSON: Big Science (Warner Bros.) Like protest singers, novelty artists put too much strain on the words. Anderson's performance, as they say, is richer and subtler than Si Kahn's or John Prine's. But her music is more, as they say, minimal, which diminishes replay potential. Don't get me wrong--she achieves moments of humor so exquisite (timing and timbre of the pilot's chuckles on "From the Air," for instance) that I just have to hear them again, and when I do I enjoy the rest. But while Anderson's alienated patriotic (and romantic) affection is clearly her own invention, it's just as clearly a variant on your basic boho Americanism (and sexuality)--a variant that adds only a voice, not words, by which I mean ideas. Richard Pryor she ain't. A MINUS

BLACK UHURU: Tear It Up--Live (Mango) Third album's awful soon for a live one, you might think, and then notice that only one of the eight titles is on Red or Sinsemilla. That's because six of them can be found--in clearer, denser, trickier, scarier, longer versions--on 1979's Showcase, available as a Joe Gibbs import. "Abortion" is anti, natch, and Jah knows where they can stick it, but you'd never guess from these remakes how effective it and all Uhuru's early songs can be. Here in Babylon we call this kind of thing a scam. C MINUS

JOANNE BRACKEEN: Special Identity (Antilles) Piano trios are often oversubtle, but Brackeen's assertive presence compensates for her conversational touch. She doesn't swing enough, and her mix of styles overemphasizes modal-to-atonal modernism, but even the densest harmonic clusters here have an appealing clarity. The little tunes stick, the big ones proceed, and Jack DeJohnette plays drums. B PLUS

ORNETTE COLEMAN: Of Human Feelings (Antilles) Ornette's pioneering Dancing in Your Head was completely unrelenting, his ancillary Body Meta somewhat amorphous; Blood Ulmer's records are jagged, Shannon Jackson's uneven. Which makes this album, cut three years ago with five young musicians who have gotten even better since, a breakthrough if not a miracle: warm, listenable harmolodic funk. Most great lyric artists shore up their effusions with irony, but the way this music confounds mind-body dualism should provide all the release from tension anyone needs. The teeming intellectual interplay of the rhythms is no less humane than the childlike bits of melody. And the way the players break into ripples of song only to ebb back into the tideway is participatory democracy at its most practical and utopian. A PLUS

MARSHALL CRENSHAW (Warner Bros.) I would never have predicted it, but Crenshaw's unassuming tunes might well be magical enough to bear up under the high-tech perfectionism of Lenny Waronker or Gary Katz--Richard Gottehrer's instant co-production seems to flatten out the airy three-dimensional grace they have live. But the tunes themselves are very winning, as sly and well-meaning as his love of girls. A MINUS [Later: A]

"D" TRAIN (Prelude) Their burgeoning street rep reflects the burly appeal of James Williams, who sings lead like the president of the Teddy Pendergrass Fan Club, Boys and Girls High chapter. More power to him. But their chart success reflects the complete control of keyboard pro Hubert Eaves III. Hooks don't grow on streets. B PLUS

CHICO FREEMAN: Destiny's Dance (Contemporary) Freeman's previous albums have been pretentious and often static. This one sounds like jazz, and though Freeman's embouchure is thin, his compleatly eclectic concept gets over on the heads and improvs alone. "Wilpan's Walk" is Blue Note for the '80s, "Crossing the Sudan" bows toward Pharoah, "C & M" is as eventful as a Muhal piece because it is one, and "Embracing Oneness" does its best to show Duke and Thelonious the Way, though I myself doubt that they're listening. A MINUS

THE FUN BOY THREE (Chrysalis) This spinoff stretches the Specials even thinner--so thin it's like a minimalist statement, as if chants and jingles were the music of the people. And though "The Lunatics" is the only track I'm hooked on (I sing it for anyone within earshot and sound like Robert Goulet by comparison), it might be novelty album of the year if all the others achieved the rudimentary, skeptical charm of "Faith, Hope and Charity" and "The Telephone Always Rings." B

HAIRCUT ONE HUNDRED: Pelican West (Arista) "The important thing to keep in mind is that anywhere else in the world, besides the US, this is not considered a 'New Wave' record. It is as mainstream and as accessible as you can get."--Rockpool Newsletter. (Editor's note: cf. Doobie Brothers.) "Britons can't sing"--Simon Frith, New York Rocker. (Editor's note: italics in original.) C PLUS

HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS: Picture This (Chrysalis) The onetime Marin country-rocker and Elvis C. backer-upper is now working a working-guy variation on Rindy Ross (Quarterflash, dummy), cutting his macho strut with pop moues and knowing nods at women's lib. Though he has none of Springsteen's feeling for narrative and sings from the diaphragm rather than the gut, he's canny enough to pick good covers and writes his share of reasonable facsimiles: "Workin for a Livin" could be primo Bob Seger and "The Only One" is worthy of Geldof or Lynott if not the master. But Chris Hayes's metal furbelows soon remind you how much Huey sounds like Louie (Gramm) (Foreigner, dummy). I mean, Dewey really need one more rock pro bulling his way through options that just aren't as limited as he makes his living pretending? B MINUS

LOVERBOY: Get Lucky (Columbia) Wish I could work up the fine pitch of loathing this received, synthesized, male chauvinist pop metal theoretically deserves, but in fact it's not completely awful: "Working for the Weekend" articulates a real class dilemma, "Get Lucky" puns on the band's careerist fortunes, and "Emotional" is a better Stones rip than "It's Only Rock 'n Roll." C PLUS

PAUL MCCARTNEY: Tug of War (Columbia) McCartney has never solved the problem of eternal youth. Most rock-and-rollers look like simps or cynics by the time they hit 35. Others retain the irrepressible exuberance of a Stevie Wonder, or grasp it again in magic moments the way Carl Perkins does on this album's most affecting cut. A few rare ones age gracefully into fresh-eyed wisdom, like Neil Young and John Lennon. But no matter how serious and sensible he gets, McCartney's perpetual boyishness conveys the perpetual callowness of a musical Troy Donahue. I don't think this is intentional--in his personal life he seems at least as adult as anyone I've named, and he's put his hard-earned craft to mature use on this LP. But it might almost be dumb love songs. B PLUS [Later: B]

MIGHTY DIAMONDS: Indestructible (Alligator) As on so many reggae albums, songs that sound flat at first sink in if given the chance. But with most of the three-part unisons giving way to Tabby Shaw's lissome but somewhat reserved tenor and the tunes themselves accommodating the dubious "sincerity" of lovers rock, the new classics number only three: one about prison, one about revolution, and one about passing the pipe. A MINUS [Later]

MIGHTY DIAMONDS: Reggae Street (Shanachie) As on so many reggae albums, songs that sound flat at first sink in if given the chance. But reggae's simple melodic devices are wearing so thin that this isn't always a plus--I resisted the title cut even more stubbornly once I remembered how it went, and the old political messages remind me more and more of Sunday school. Nevertheless, I remain basically interested until the middle of side two, with special curiosity as to the current whereabouts of "King Kong." B PLUS

GRAHAM PARKER: Another Grey Area (Arista) Mixed success isn't becoming to Parker, who can no longer blame his bad personality on unemployment. By replacing the Rumour with studio regulars, he's lost the edgy drive that used to help his bitterness cut through, and his revitalized melodic craft only takes him so far--if hooks don't justify kneejerk sentimentality, they don't justify jerkoff paranoia either. B

DOLLY PARTON: Heartbreak Express (RCA Victor) If Willie and Merle, her equals as country artists, can turn into premier pop singers, why can't Dolly? Maybe because she's justifiably smitten with her physical gifts. Just as she can't resist pushup bras, she can't resist oversinging, showing off every curve of a gorgeous voice that's still developing new ones. On the other hand, maybe it has to do with why she wears wigs, which if I'm not mistaken is because she doesn't really like her hair. B MINUS

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: The Concert in Central Park (Warner Bros.) In the great Woodstock tradition, this gift from a flower (or two) to a generation (or two) is also a corporate boondoggle--a classy way for Warner Bros. artist Simon to rerecord, rerelease, and resell the catalogue CBS is sitting on. Paul has forgotten Art enough to relax as a singer, which means that much of the S&G material has improved since 1971. But live doubles are live doubles, nostalgia is nostalgia, wimps are wimps, and who needs any of 'em? C PLUS

SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES: Once Upon a Time/The Singles (PVC) Like Jim Morrison, greatest of the pop posers, Siouxsie Pseud disguises the banality of her exoticism with psychedelic gimmicks most profitably consumed at their hookiest, and voila. Although two of the four unavailable-on-album 45s on this compilation go nowhere, most of these nightmare vignettes are diverting placebos, of a piece even though they span three years of putative artistic development. B PLUS

GARY STEWART & DEAN DILLON: Brotherly Love (RCA Victor) Gary has been in trouble, and Dillon did write "Unwound" for George Strait, but the disappointments begin with the cover, where Gary sports a medallion (wore hippie beads in the good old days), and continue through the title hit, the smarmy lasciviousness of which typifies the honky tonk as singles bar. Not bad, mind you--another buddy-buddy album must have been just what the boys wanted. But you can live without it. B [Later: B-]

TROUBLE FUNK: Drop the Bomb (Sugarhill) Title track's the baddest antinuke music yet, not least because it'll offend the pious even before the rhythms put them out of joint--which is not to suggest that "Let's Get Hot" is Trouble Funk's version of the nuclear freeze, although in a way it is. Actually, "Drop the Bomb," "Hey Fellas" (which--oh that direct, unironic street culture--uses "backstabbers" as a compliment), and the primal "Pump Me Up" are all hotter (or maybe cooler) than the overarranged "Let's Get Hot"--which is to suggest that when it's pumping, this rapid Chocolate City street funk is the death. A MINUS

Additional Consumer News

After several years' hiatus, John Storm Roberts has reissued Africa Dances, his 1973 compilation of 16 hits dating back to the '50s. It costs a rather stiff $10.98 postpaid, but what you get for your money is 45 minutes of exceptionably listenable African pop, and anybody accustomed to import prices would be a fool not to spring for it. . . .

After months of delving I'm still on a lot of hardcore fences--the EPs tend to go by me in a blur and/or racket. Reserving judgment yet again on CH3 and the Circle Jerks, both with albums out now. I can heartily recommend Minor Threat's In My Eyes (Dischord), the title track of which is a revelatory (and not always fast) imagined call and response: "You tell me that I'm better/you just hate yourself," etc. I also really enjoy "Statues" by Husker Du (Reflex), a P.I.L.-ish single by a band whose new live sppedrock LP impresses me after one listen. AC/DC meets the Ramones for one-minute songs on the Fartz' Because This Fuckin' World Stinks, which leads off with the classic "You Got a Brain" and gets no smarter. . . .

Another recommended EP is The Dream Syndicate (Down There), history's most shameless early-Velvets rip. Special kudos to Dennis Duck for simulating Maureen Tucker's style while intensifying her groove and doubling her drive.

Village Voice, June 1, 1982


May 4, 1982 July 6, 1982